House Hunting

Our balcony wildlife garden

My family recently started house hunting. We’ve been apartment dwellers for years, but the situation is right for us to purchase a home since, among other reasons, we’re planning on staying in Seattle for a few years. Plus we’re tired of our rent going up every year. Over the last few months I’ve discovered how much value I place on the outdoor space. We started out looking at condos, then expanded townhouses and now have expanded to houses, something I didn’t initially want. The thought of maintaining a house with all the electrical wiring, plumbing, siding and roofing makes me shudder. But houses also have significant outdoor space. I’d be happy with a condo that had a great balcony, however those are very hard to come by in Seattle, most buildings have no outdoor space or tiny, ‘Juliet’ balconies. Townhouses are also not bad, they often have one or two balconies and a small yard space. A few have more space than some houses I’ve seen.

I knew from the start that I wanted an outdoor space and that it was important to me. For one I want to take all of my native plant containers with me. Plus I want the space to expand. Now that we have a little one in the family it’s also important to have some little space to play as well. This year our apartment built garden plots on our roof for tenants to use for vegetable patches. Although I’ve grown tomatoes, peas and beans on our balcony, having that little patch with room for several vegetables and herbs has been such a treat. It’s great to go to the roof to harvest some lettuce for dinner. I’m afraid now though I’ve gotten greedy. Now instead of being satisfied with a small garden, I want room for a bigger wildlife garden, more native plants, room for my daughter to play and room for vegetables and herbs.

I’ve read about studies that say landscaping can improve home value. This is certainly true for me. When I look at photos online, the first ones I look for are the outdoor photos. If the outdoor space looks adequate then I look at the interior photos. But the landscaping is another issue. Many of the yards I see have horrible plantings with large lawns, box-shaped shrubs and the typical array of plants. A few have mature fruit trees which is a big bonus. For myself, I’m more interested in the potential of the space than what is already there. I also imagine that when I’m done with it and we’re ready to move on it’ll have improved the value of the house.

It’s quite amazing to me how what I was sure I want from our future abode has altered so dramatically. Suddenly we were looking at a house sitting on a 10,000 square foot lot. A huge difference from our 20 square foot balcony. How did this happen?

The search continues.

Was the landscape important to you when you bought your current place of residence? What did you look for when house hunting? Has anyone sold a house for an increased value because of the landscaping you did?

Our balcony wildlife garden

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  1. Vicky says

    When we bought our home the landscaping wasn’t important to us. It was our first house, purchased during the housing bubble, and all we were trying to do was find a place that we could afford. If we were to move today, existing landscaping would not be really important since I would want to create my own space anyway. I would however note the sun exposure on the house and property so I would know if I could have a little veggie plot.

    Landscaping can increase the value of your home, but only if it’s landscaping that most people want (like a beautiful lawn). Be careful about extensive landscaping on a property you’re not going to live in for a while. I read an article in the Washington Post recently where too much landscaping (i.e. flowers) were a liability to an owner trying to sell his house. In fact, there was little interest because he had “too many flowers.” Most buyers are looking for lawn for their kids/pets, and don’t want to maintain extensive beds. After the owner died, the children arranged for a local garden club to come dig up the plants and the yard was resodded. The house sold after 12 days on the market and the real estate agent said the removal of the flowers was critical to the sale.

    Should you wish to read the whole article it’s here:

    It’s a sad, but cautionary tale. Do what makes you happy, but just be aware of any possible consequences. Perhaps people in Seattle are more enlightened than here and you really will increase the value of your home.

    • says

      This is awful! Maybe I’ll never sell my house. Those people will slather the lawn in chemicals that will hurt their kids, too. I swear. I am swearing. I’ve read the homes with trees, or neighborhoods, harbor less crime. That “good” landscaping means a 10-20% increases in home value (ha, not in this market). But good landscaping is spiraea and boxwood. I cringe when people look at my garden and remark on how much work it must be. They think I’m lying when I say 1-2 days each year, which is far far far less than that darned lawn.
      Benjamin Vogt recently posted..From the New Memoir

  2. says

    We are ‘weird’. We wanted a large garden, that my husband could enjoy landscaping, and I could plan and plant. We choose the trees, the view, the space. Resale is probably going to be interesting. We have no lawn, we garden for wildlife. There are birds and frogs and Snakes!

    Future owners will have their own ideas, but I can dream that Gardening for Wildlife won’t make their eyebrows disappear into their hair. (Odd is that ‘they’ want a lawn for the kids to play on. They cover it with poison and warning signs. And the kids, like us, are digital life forms, not lawn life forms ;~)
    Diana of Elephant’s Eye recently posted..Wildflower Wednesday, about blog photos and Google Plus

  3. says

    When we moved from Mobile, Alabama, 6 years ago, the real estate agent highlighted the gardening I’d done and it was the reason that the buyers selected the house. (We had put in perennial beds around the perimeter of the yard, with a couple islands, but there was still plenty of grass for throwing a football, etc.) I had chosen well adapted and/or native plants to minimize maintenance, which we also highlighted.

    Here in Kansas, one of our most important criteria was getting a small acreage. We lucked out – the 10 acres we purchased has wonderful sandy loam soil; next time we move, I will try to pay attention to soil type as we consider different homes to purchase. Gardening here (except for the weather) has been such a pleasure!

    Gardening for wildlife, organic gardening, and gardening with native plants are all increasing in visibility and popularity. I’d say, “Go for it!” Every yard transformed from a “typical” lawn maintained by poisons and pollution is a win for the planet, especially for the butterflies, bees, other insects, and birds that have a bit of habitat, once again. (If you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend Douglas Tallamy’s “Bringing Nature Home.”)

    Good luck on your search for a new abode!
    Gaia gardener recently posted..The Dread Beetle Japanese

  4. Tia says

    Kelly, I concur with paying attention to the soil. I have luscious well-drained loam in Kirkland, but a friend a few miles south in Newcastle is living on a pile of rocks. I look forward to the first time I ask someone “Mind if I dig a hole?” before making an offer. Heh. I also appreciate my mostly flat yard–watering young plants is much easier to do, as is routine maintenance. The shade from surrounding trees has made veggie gardening tricky. I’ve reduced the turf but have kept three patches suitable for kids or dogs, if anyone ever lives here with those. I quite like the negative space and cool green it provides. It is easy to maintain with a top dressing of compost and occasional aeration.

    I heard from friends recently that they were intimidated by a house for sale which had an award-winning garden. It was stunning and I would have moved there in a heartbeat, but I guess it is true that an elaborate garden may be like a pool in that it limits potential buyers to that group that knows what it is looking at in terms of the care required.

  5. says

    Kelly, Buy a house and lot that fits your needs, and landscape it to suit yourself, recognizing that it’s for you as long as you’re there. If you have to make some changes eventually to sell it, so be it. But don’t worry about that now. You can’t know what’s ahead, so there’s no use worrying about it! Fifteen years ago, my husband and I bought a blighted industrial property for its location (in town, walking distance to everything we needed), its southern exposure for a passive solar house, the decaying but historic shop building that was “perfect” for my husband’s sculpture studio, and for its fabulous view of the mountains over town. The existing “landscaping” was junked industrial machinery and invasive weeds. Half a block worth. The house my sculptor husband lovingly built was going to be where we lived until the end of our days; I landscaped the property to suit us, restoring the native bunchgrass/wildflower high-desert grassland instead of a lawn, adding in perennial borders of native plants plus a few “heritage” species that have thrived in our neighborhood for the last century on our arid soils, and a large kitchen garden in raised beds (so I could fill them with rich organic soil). My husband died last November of brain cancer, leaving the interior of our beautiful house unfinished, and me with half-a-block of property, 2,400 square feet of house, and 1,700 feet of century-old sculpture studio to maintain. I’ve made the difficult decision to put my beloved house/guest cottage/shop and restored native grassland up for sale. Some people won’t love the landscaping; but someone will fall in love with the place, I know it. I wouldn’t change a thing!
    Susan J. Tweit recently posted..Road Report: Revisiting a “thread”

  6. says

    I bought our current house because it was forever wild behind me and had mature trees left on the lot as well as lots of open space. We bought the lot and built the house. Our last house actually had little appeal because of the landscape…they ripped out all the plants that replaced the lawn and planted lawn again…very sad…they even cut down lovely native trees so they could have more lawn…needless to say I never have gone back to see it…only heard about it.
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted..Seasonal Celebrations-Autumn Awaits

  7. says

    Nice post with some important ideas and suggestions. We definitely think its important to assess what you are willing to do, spend and care for before you pick a landscape to create or that comes with a house. It saves a lot of concern down the road to think that through beforehand. Thanks for the post!

  8. Chinook says

    I am of the subspecies humanus stayputus. Just as Wendell Berry, Gary Snider and most Native Americans. My mother, brother and sister too. We buy a place and live there for the rest of our lives watching our roots go down and the soil improve, and the garden and wildlife and community grow more healthy. (Wendell and Gary have a conversation about Distant Neighbors, about this I believe.)

    I believe such people are more interested in the soil, and the layout of the land than most. Exposure: where does the sun shine, and where do the shadows fall. I live in a substandard lot in Portland with a hundred year old Sears kit house and I have made it into heaven, given 33 years of learining…. in one place.

    Most realtors … and buyers are Clueless with regard to soil, organic care, native plants. But almost anybody with a quiet mind can walk into my garden and know something special is going on here…. depending upon the season.

    A real sharp realtor could make a niche market for folks who gave a damn. That insight has not hit the marketplace yet, I have seen many an organic plot be sold to idiots that cannot determine the difference between naturescaping and planting invasive species. Clueless. 40 years of organic input on a garden and immediately and without thought bring in the chemical sprays by the tank-load.

    We might consider a tax on this kind of pollution. It takes a minimum of seven years to clear a farm field for organic use.

    I have infected my neighbors with the gardening bug. It takes time. Years. and with most folks hopping around like popcorn, or more aptly, turtles gambling on the value of their shells, it is little wonder that folks cannot find the wonder in staying home…. and feasting on the berries, grapes, tomatoes, kale, cucumbers and on, and ……….. and painting the bird that visit.

    nice blog………… guess I went on a garden rant there…… gardeners…… they sure have their opinions.
    guess I am one of em.


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